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Design and Fenway Park

One of the pre-conference events was a talk at Fenway Park followed by a tour of the ballpark. Janet Marie Smith, VP of planning and development for the Sox, kicked things off with how the team (especially the new management) works really hard to preserve the essential character of Fenway while at the same time trying to upgrade the park (and keep it from getting torn down). She talked about the advertisements added to the Green Monster, which was actually not a purely commercial move but a throwback to a time when the Monster was actually covered with ads.

Lots of talk and awareness of experience design…the Red Sox folks in particular kept referring to the “experience” of the park. One of the speakers (can’t recall who, might have been Jim Dow) talked about how other ballparks are becoming places where only people who can afford $100 tickets can go to the games and what that does to the team’s fan base. With Fenway, they’re trying to maintain a variety of ticket prices to keep the diversity level high…greater diversity makes for a better crowd and a better fan base and is quite appropriate for Boston (and New England in general), which has always been an area with vibrant blue collar and blue blood classes.

Janet also referred to the “accidental” design of the park. Like many other urban ballparks built in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, the placement of the streets constrained the design of Fenway and made it rather an odd shape….these days larger plots are selected where those types of restraints are removed. And over time, the game has changed, the needs of the fans have changed, and the fire codes have changed and the park has changed with the times. In the dead ball era, the walls of the stadium weren’t for hitting home runs over; their sole function was to keep people on the street for catching the game for free, so the Fenway outfield ran over 500 feet in right field โ€” practically all the way to the street โ€” where there’s now 30 rows of seats. Jim Holt observed that American butts have gotten bigger so bigger seats are called for. Fire codes helped that change along as well…wooden seats, bleachers, and overcrowding are no longer a large part of the Fenway experience (save for the wooden seats under the canopy).

The design talk continued on the tour of the park. Our guide detailed how ballparks are built around specific ballplayers. Yankee Stadium was the house that Ruth built but it was also seemingly (but not literally) built for him with a short trip for his home run balls to the right field wall. Boston added a bullpen to make the right field shorter for Ted Williams. Barry Bonds does very well at PacBell/SBC/WhateverItsCalledTheseDays Park. And more than that, the design of Fenway also dictated for a long time the type of team that they could field, which had some bearing on how they did generally. Players who played well in Fenway (i.e. could hit fly balls off of the Monster in left) often didn’t do so well in other parks and the team’s away record suffered accordingly.

Reader comments

CorySep 15, 2005 at 3:07PM

You used to live in Minneapolis right? It's a shame we are stuck with a dome here in Minnesota, while Baseball is so much more enjoyable outdoors.

Fenway looks awesome.

GregSep 15, 2005 at 3:22PM

I took in a tour of Fenway about 3 years ago, before they added seas ontop of the monster and kept on building upwards

It's truely a unique park, but I laughed at that comment about how "other ballparks are becoming places where only people who can afford $100 tickets can go to the games," at Turner Field here in Atlanta the most expensive tickets are $53 (for dugout level on premium games) and it's pretty easy to get a ticket, whereas Fenway is closer to $80 ($120 to sit on the first row of the Monster for "red games") and getting a ticket for a Red Sox game requires getting to the box office the very second the schedules are announced in winter otherwise it's sold out.

jkottkeSep 15, 2005 at 3:22PM

Yeah, I did. And they talked about domed stadiums and how that particular design was in vogue for awhile for baseball stadiums and how things are starting to move back to more "authentic" parks like Camden Yards in Baltimore. (I say "authentic" because they're styled after older parks like Fenway, Wrigley, Cominsky, etc. which were often designed under different constraints and in piecemeal.)

Martin S.Sep 15, 2005 at 3:33PM

On Ted Williams and Fenway: I had no idea that they did that. A general observation about Fenway and left-handed hitters. Some people have been puzzled over the fact that Fenway has been so kind to LH hitters (Williams, Lynn, Boggs, Ortiz) even though right field (where the LH hitter naturally pulls to) is the deeper field. The answer might be in looking at what the pitcher is supposed to do. Pitch him inside and he pulls it to right, probably a line drive and therefore possibly a hit. Pitch him away and he dinks it off the Monster for a double or long single.

Jordon CooperSep 15, 2005 at 3:33PM

Being from western Canada, my trips to major league sports are limited to Canadian Football League games and trip to Calgary and Edmonton to watch the NHL. My father has season tickets to the Flames right behind their bench and I am amazed at how few fans are even sitting around me. Most are corporate tickets where many people in the lower bowl are in the concourse level lounges doing business on their cell phones or schmoozing with other people who were given free tickets. The tickets themselves are prohibitively expensive and even a mediocre seat costs a lot. That and most fans keep to themselves.

Having been lucky enough to watch some baseball games in Toronto and later in Chicago and L.A. (oop, I mean Anaheim), I was amazed at the diversity of the crowds and of course almost never selling out means for cheap tickets via scalpers. In Calgary, there are almost no children in the lower bowl while they were everywhere at Wrigley and other places.

Baseball is one of those sports that is good on television but is amazing live and it is all because of those great parks.

AlissaSep 15, 2005 at 3:41PM

I've been to Fenway and a few other major league parks, and this is totally accurate. The place has an old-timey feel like no other. (Being a Sox fan has little-to-nothing to do with these sentiments.)

BeckySep 15, 2005 at 4:10PM

I love going to fenway, however I feel like the management is pretty out of touch with a normal budget. I saw the Red Sox play at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City and paid $24 for my ticket, right behind the away team dugout. If I wanted to get tickets like that for fenway (hahaha) I'd have to either pay an arm and a leg on ebay or know someone who had those tickets who wanted company. Even the bleachers are expensive.

However, I must say that it's definitely a great experience to go to a game there if you have the opportunity.

EricSep 15, 2005 at 4:17PM

The Red Sox have the highest average ticket prices in the that line about affordability is rather humorous.

For another perspective on Fenway, check out this article and accompanying photos on the worst seats at Fenway.

jkottkeSep 15, 2005 at 4:25PM

Well, I think the economic pressures re: Fenway are somewhat unique. They've got a small stadium, a die-hard fan base, a great baseball team, a huge area and population from which to drawn potential buyers (they're called the Boston Red Sox, but they really belong to all of New England), and they need to pay major league salaries to stay competitive with the Yankees. Low supply of a high quality product combined with a high demand is going to raise prices.

JasonSep 15, 2005 at 4:39PM

I think the problem is that nobody disagrees with the fact that there are economic pressures pushing Red Sox ticket prices up, but rather, that people are a bit incredulous that Red Sox staff members push that line about how they're trying to combat the ticket price problem that they see at other parks; that's really a load of hooey.

Living in Boston, one of the biggest laments you hear during baseball season is how it is not only impossible to afford tickets at their normal prices, but that (because literally every ticket for the entire season sells during the first day or two that they're on sale) it becomes that much *harder* to afford Red Sox tickets when your only option is the ticket brokers who double the price. One thing the Red Sox certainly could do is leave a percentage of tickets held until a week or two before each game, and put them on sale then -- that would enable real fans to at least have a chance to get tickets, but it doesn't seem to be in the cards.

EricSep 15, 2005 at 4:39PM

The Red Sox have had the highest average ticket prices for the last eight years.

However, as most longtime Red Sox fans would note, tickets to a game at Fenway were for the most part readily available until the last few years and were never subject to the frenzy (outside of Yankees series) that they are today.

I'm not so sure this is a bandwagon effect (the Red Sox have always been popular) as much as a new emphasis on physically attending games as opposed to watching them on television or listening to them on the radio.

Check here for Red Sox historical attendance figures.

When it comes right down to it though you will pay incredibly high prices for everything at Fenway. Tickets, hot dogs, beer, parking, water, etc.

jkottkeSep 15, 2005 at 4:58PM

Red Sox staff members push that line about how they're trying to combat the ticket price problem that they see at other parks

Sox staff members didn't say this, at least at the talk I went to this morning...the comment was from someone other than a Sox employee (and now that I think about, was probably not talking about Fenway in general, but about ballpark experience design in general). Not sure what they're saying elsewhere.

JasonSep 15, 2005 at 4:59PM

Oh, yeah -- finishing the ticket broker thought, if the Red Sox were really interested in helping people afford tickets, they would lobby the State of Massachusetts to put actual, enforcible limits on the amount ticket brokers are allowed to charge over face value. Right now, the law reads that they can charge an extra $2... plus service charges that include the cost of acquiring and selling the ticket. Looking at the Ace Tickets website, I can get a ticket in the infield grandstand for tonight's game for $75, which is a $30 (75%!) markup over face value of $45. This is what puts Red Sox games out of reach for many people.

Chris G.Sep 15, 2005 at 6:15PM

The Red Sox do leave a few seats available for gameday-only purchases usually. Problem is, you have to get to the ticket office at like 7am the day of the game to have a shot at them.

There is nothing like Fenway Park. Every time I go to a game (about once a year), I just get chills when I walk up those steps and see a lush green field and that wall in left field. One of the few places where you can walk in and literally feel like a giddy little kid again.

ZachSep 15, 2005 at 9:09PM

I've always loved the 'experience' of being at a game at fenway park, but never knew if it was just because I am a life-long Sox fan, or if there really is that special vibe present in Boston. Either way, its impossible to get tickets nowadays.

Go Sox!

rob colonnaSep 15, 2005 at 9:42PM

It is difficult to get tickets for games, and requires effort, but it definitely can be done. It just requires a busy Saturday in December, possibly waiting in some rain or snow, where they let you hang out at the park and wait for your number to be called. It's organized well, and they let you come and go (provided you keep your wristband on). As for the cost of tickets, yeah, by and large, they're pretty steep. You will pay $40 for a seat from which you very likely cannot see all eight players on the field. I'm 6'4" and don't even fit in those seats (I'm surprised my knees don't have permanent red stripes from close contact with the wooden slats). At the same time, there do exist a few (
As for the bullpens being added to help Ted Williams, they are occasionally referred to as 'Williamsburg', as noted in the wikipedia article. Of course, right field is still pretty darn deep, except for the pole.

And even though they are making a ton of money, I do mostly drink the kool-aid as far as the 'experience' is concerned. One thing I really appreciate as a nice detail is the signage. They've been steadily improving it and adding more, but for the most part all the newest signage looks pleasantly of the same vintage as at least some part of the park. Having gone to a dank, quiet Fenway to watch bad Red Sox teams in the late 80's and early 90's, the way it is today is, for many, probably the best it's ever been, nostalgia be damned.

StephenSep 16, 2005 at 9:30AM

My wife wrote her graduate thesis on Fenway Park and the park's historic significance in the Boston/New England area. As part of her research, she found that it was originally designed to have an upper deck, but it was obviously never built (for funding reasons, if I recall accurately). Assuming ths core structure is still sound (a big assumption...although the advanced engineering of today could work around that), the Sox could add an upper deck and bring the capacity to the 42-44K range. The place would still probably be sold out on a regular basis, but the task of getting tix may be made somewhat easier if they expanded the capacity to that level.

I grew up a 15 minute walk from Fenway and went there as a kid regularly. The experience of going to Fenway Park has always been amazing (and depending on who you talk to, trumped only by Wrigley in Chicago). The changes that have been made are great and its wonderful to know they are going to stay there for the forseeable future.

Go Sox!!

jgSep 16, 2005 at 12:45PM

The Red Sox have the highest average ticket prices in the that line about affordability is rather humorous.

Apples and oranges. He stated that they kept a 'variety' of ticket prices. In other words you could have tickets for 10 bucks, 50 bucks, and a thousand bucks, and on average have the highest ticket prices, but also have tickets in all ranges.

and they need to pay major league salaries to stay competitive with the Yankees.

Actually, and it's been proven over and over again, ticket prices have very little to do with the ability to pay athlete's salaries.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.